The Vatican Christmas

By Lois M Gordon

As you venture out into our world, your travel can consist of a day visit to the closest towns or a journey that will place our feet clear on the other side of the world.  It is all about discovery and about everywhere you walk.  So, COME – EXPLORE WITH ME.


The Christmas season begins in full swing long before Christmas arrives.  During November, artisans begin building the traditional life-size Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square, while moving companies are preparing to place a 100-foot Christmas tree by its side.

The Nativity scene, the size of a two-story house is a popular tradition with Italians and visitors that was introduced by Pope John Paul II nearly 30 years ago.  It coincides with the annual Vatican-sponsored exhibition of 100 Nativity scenes, called Presepi.  It joins thousands of other, often elaborately made, Presepi in churches throughout Rome and Italy.  The tradition dates back to the time of St. Francis of Assisi.

The Vatican Christmas tree is always donated by a different region or country and is left standing until the end of January.

Besides Nativity scenes and Christmas trees, there is plenty more going on.  A full diary of papal liturgical events is prepared for the Pope.  After the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, during which the Pope makes his traditional address at the foot of the Spanish Steps next to a statue of Our Lady in the heart of Rome, the Holy Father will also make an Advent pastoral visit as the Bishop of Rome.

While snowfall is a rarity and Santa Claus is seldom seen, Christmas in the Vatican is truly unique.

Cranes erect the enormous evergreen in St. Peter’s Square and workers nested in cherry picker buckets adorn the tree with lights, ornaments and tinsel.  In the past, over 3,000 gold and silver balls and 1,500 white and yellow LED lights have been used – topped with a flashing star.

In addition to the public events, Pope Benedict celebrates Christmas privately with the members of his papal household.

“We celebrate Christmas together, listen to holiday music, and exchange gifts,” he said in a recent interview.  Bavarian food is delivered, including cakes and cookies, plus Bavarian sausages, special mustard, marzipan and jams.

On Christmas Day itself, no special guests are expected and the main meal, being lunch, is made up of “Italian food”.

If you plan a trip to Rome for Christmas, make your reservations well in advance.

Merry Christmas to all!  May you have a peaceful, loving gathering.

One Response to “The Vatican Christmas”

  1. Doug Underwood | 01.01.12 at 7:58 PM said…

    Very intresting read. A belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, Lois.